Students of world literature and Eastern languages will absolutely swoon if they are fortunate enough to receive this new translation of The Adventures of Amir Hamza. Adored throughout Arabia, Iran, India, and Pakistan, oral and visual renderings of the Hamzanama date back to the seventh century. Although English translations from the original Urdu appeared at the end of the 19th century, they were abridged or highly censored. Fortunately for contemporary English readers, one of the creatures that appear in the Amir Hamza tales came to Musharraf Ali Farooqi (Passion in the Time of Termites) in a dream to tell him he was chosen to do the translation. "Before I could say anything," Farooqi writes in his introduction, "they plunged back into darkness. I heard sniggering, galloping sounds, and then all was quiet."
Amir Hamza, uncle of the prophet Muhammad, is a man of limited means who falls in love with an emperor's daughter. He wins her hand thanks to his Merlin-like friend, Buzurjmehr. In service to the emperor, Amir Hamza travels to exotic lands, and these travels are the springboard for his adventures, where he meets a fantastic galaxy of friends, foes, lovers, prophets, and demons. While comparisons to Homer, The Lord of the Rings, Gulliver's Travels, and other epic tales are useful, The Adventures of Amir Hamza is a world unto itself. Though full of magic, playfulness, and ribald humor, parents hoping to enchant their children with these tales would be advised to read the book for selective excerpts before stumbling onto passages like, "the maidens' ruddy breasts (begone malicious glances!) and the swellings of their bosoms – each more sublime than the other! – put to shame citrons and apples."
Farooqi's The Adventures of Amir Hamza is for a seasoned, patient, and curious reader. With prose as embroidered as the tales themselves, the book should be savored under the covers like a secret lover before some filmmaker steals it away and dilutes it for mass consumption.
The Annotated Hans Christian Andersen by Hans Christian Andersen, edited by Maria Tatar (W.W. Norton, $35); Beowulf: An Illustrated Edition by Seamus Heaney (translation) and John D. Niles (illustration) (W.W. Norton, $24.95).
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